Sunday, 17 July 2016

For the love of Physics

 Today I finished reading: For the love of physics by Walter Lewin. Lewin was famous for his physics lectures at MIT, particularly when they were posted online. The most iconic moment in his course was when he let a big pendulum off in front of him. The point was that it didn't swing back and smash
him in the head, because of energy conversation.

The book is enjoyable, but also a bit strange. It starts out with popular real world physics, but the second half is about his research into X-ray astronomy mostly using ballons. The last chapter is about Modern Art. He is a big collector and he has worked with some artists. I liked the way he used in the end chapter the metaphor "ways of seeing" to unify his interests in art and physics.

I was disappointed that there were not a lot of discussion of his teaching methods. It  does look as though he was an inspirational teacher. In the book he reported that he gave out flowers, when he displayed Maxwell's equations on the screen. Students wrote to him to say they remember the flowers, if nothing else from the course.  Students liked the demos as well.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Staying ahead at work

Our School is judged by the employability of our students, when they graduate. So we are always looking for ways to build in methods to make sure our teaching equips the students with useful jobs skills. One person suggested developing a system for the students to create a portfolio of their skills.

Last week I read the book "Staying ahead at work" by Karen Mannering. The subtitle of the book was: "How to develop a winning portfolio of work skills and attitudes?"

The book was more focused on people already working in a company and helping them get a promotion or a new better job. So there was a lot of stuff about getting a mentor, or a coach,
and the importance of networking. She also suggested writing an "action plan" to plan for career development and advancement. It was not particularly useful for students at University.

Towards a unified theory of problem solving

I have just read the short book: Towards a unified theory of problem solving, which is edited by Mike Smith. The book contained a set of chapters about teaching problem solving in diffferent subjects, such as:
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Medicine
  • Programming
  • Mathematics
  • Physics
  • Trouble shooting (finding problems in machines).
I teach physics and mathematics, this involves trying to get the students to solve problems.
The aim of the book was to see if there were generic methods of solving problems, which are useful for all subjects.  In the end I didn't see any conclusion that there was a universal method of solving problems in any domain.

There was much discussion about the differences between the problem solving skills of experts and novices. Also there was issues about much information the students needed before they started trying to solve problems. Experts would experiment a bit more before they started to calculate. At the end of the solution of the problem, experts would think about better ways of solving the problems.

The way that TAs explained solutions to problems didn't help students to learn better problem solving techniques.